Survivor: Debbie Fassino

Posted 10/4/18

When Debbie Fassino began volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life fundraising event, she had no idea  a favor for a friend would mean so much to her on a personal level.

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Survivor: Debbie Fassino


When Debbie Fassino began volunteering with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life fundraising event, she had no idea  a favor for a friend would mean so much to her on a personal level.

Fassino, of Signal Mountain, has participated in the Relay For Life for 17 years.

“I actually began participating the first year because I was asked to join someone’s team,” Fassino said.

She was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal cancer in her left breast later that year. She  underwent surgery for double mastectomy, and had chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Two years before her diagnosis, she had a mammogram and was told she needed to watch her right breast for changes. However, cancer showed up on her left side; Fassino said she already had the idea to opt for double mastectomy if she were ever to be diagnosed.

“My first doctor missed my breast cancer diagnosis twice — through mammogram and biopsy,” Fassino said, adding picking the right doctors for your healing team “is very essential.”

Fassino’s advice to other women facing a breast cancer diagnosis is to be diligent about your treatment.

“Listen to that little voice because only you can hear it” when it comes to making the best choices possible, she said. “If you’re going to live in denial, you’re putting yourself in a really bad place.”

If she hadn’t listened to the little voice, her diagnosis could have been put off longer and her results may not have been favorable.

Fassino said she has no family history of breast cancer so “I was the pioneer in my family.” She added in this past year one of her cousins was diagnosed with a different kind of breast cancer.

“She was Stage Zero,” Fassino said, adding the woman is in her 70s. “I was diagnosed at 45.”

Fassino said she had become more mindful of early diagnosis through her involvement with the Relay For Life. She knew very few people with breast cancer, but that has changed over the years among her groups of friends.

“I sought out support and I readily was able to find support groups,” she said.

Fassino found resources through the American Cancer Society as well as through her doctors and area hospitals.

“To be able to sit in a room with eight to 10 people with types of cancer other than breast cancer was really eye opening,” Fassino said, adding initially it was “foreign” to share her story, but she found it “quite helpful, enlightening and powerful.”

Notingthe mind will go to “dark places” after diagnosis, Fassino said she appreciates support groups “to be able to share it with people who are on the same road as you.”

She is active with the American Cancer society and breast cancer groups in the area, attending several regular meetings and activities each month, among them Breast Cancer Support Services (serving Hamilton County and North Georgia), American Cancer Society and MaryEllen Locher Breast Center, at CHI Memorial Hospital Chattanooga.

“There’s so many places to reach out to and I try to be involved in all of them,” Fassino said.

Cognizant of her own experience, and addingshe lost her father to cancer in the 1980s, Fassino said more people are surviving today than ever before. She also shared that four years after her breast cancer diagnosis, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“I thought, ‘Well, I can’t just work for breast cancer fundraising and awareness,’” she said.

After diagnosis, when she walked out of the doctor’s office, she told her husband she wanted “to be able to help the next person who goes through this.”

Part of Fassino’s recovery has included exercise. She has practiced Tai Chi and yoga for their beneficial effects.

“The mind is a very powerful thing,” she said, adding her doctor told her “your attitude is 90 percent of what will heal you.”

“That has rang true for me and other people I know,” Fassino said. “Positivity breeds positivity. I may not have been as positive before my diagnosis, but I think I certainly evolved into a more positive person through this.

“Faith, family, friends and community were also a major part of my healing, as well,” she added.

Fassino credits her husband, Gary, and their children, Steve and Rachel, for being so supportive throughout her breast cancer journey. Her family has been involved in several of her activities, including being active with Relay For Life, where she has been a team captain for 15 years.

Fassino said she is glad to share her story to help others, noting she has spoken at churches, schools and community events.

“Every day you’ve got to just go forward and be thankful and grateful — and I am,” Fassino said.


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